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Poster: c-freedom Date: Jan 27, 2014 8:53am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Alabama Getaway: Lyrics-part one-Civil rights

Alabama Getaway:

One of my favorite Dead tunes (great dance tune)
Usually performed as a first set opener often going into Promised Land or Greatest Story.

Lyrics:
Thirty two teeth in a jawbone
Alabama cryin for none
Before I have to hit him
I hope he's got the sense to run

Reason those poor girls love him
Promise them anything
Reason they believe him
He wears a big diamond ring


Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away

Majordomo Billy Bojangles
Sit down and have a drink with me
What's this about Alabame
Keeps comin back to me?


Heard your plea in the courthouse
Jurybox began to rock and rise
Forty-nine sister states all had
Alabama in their eyes


Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away


Why don't we just give Alabama
rope enough to hang himself?
Ain't no call to worry the jury
His kind takes care of itself


Twenty-third Psalm Majordomo
reserve me a table for three
in the Valley of the Shadow
just you, Alabama and me


Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
turn around and leave
and walk away

Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia

Well, Probably the first thing that we need to do is to identify who is involved with this story?

David Dodd who has put together the 'annotated Dead' seems to believe the main character in 'Alabama Getaway' is Billy Bojangles Robinson. (I agree)

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Robinson
Note: Wiki mentions 'Alabama Getaway' in the popular culture section

Besides representing Billy:
Alabama' might also represent Black people in the United States in general.
The reference here being way more cryptic then let's say 'Southern Man','Alabama' by Neil Young or Lynyrd Skynyrd 'Sweet Home Alabama'.
Alabama also seems to represent
the racial segregationists as well.
So we have all those elements that make up "Alabama'.

There was a lot of racial stupidity that hounded black entertainers in the time period from the end of the Civil War to the Civil Rights era.
Basically, blacks who were forced into an inferior status by whites in the society at large and Hollywood for the most part reinforced those roles in the movies of the day.

Lets start digging into the lyrics:

-Thirty two teeth in a jawbone

This is a truism = All people have a jawbone
containing 32 teeth
Perhaps that in itself is a statement for equality
Like Bob Marley sang:
"Until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance then the color of his eyes"

-Alabama cryin for none

This could represent the merciless brutality shown by those in power trying to uphold 'white supremacy'
Also refer to the mob mentality that led to the bombing of black churches, the lynching of blacks and activists, the use of the state and local government to enforce race laws outside of any legal procedures or rule of law.

Civil rights era killings:
http://www.splcenter.org/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-martyrs


-Before I have to hit him

The question here should of course be "Why do you have to hit anyone?"

-I hope he's got the sense to run

Civil Rights protestors were ordered to disperse and urged to use common sense by local authorities so as not to bear the full brunt of the police.
But the Nation needed to see the extent to which the powers that be were willing to go in order to maintain racial separation. So the protestors stood firm and through mainly non-violent civil disobedience let the entire Nation see just how out of control was the hatred of those in power and how determined they were to crush by force black civil rights.

Civil rights timeline
http://www.sitinmovement.org/history/america-civil-rights-timeline.asp

-"Reason those poor girls love him
Promise them anything
Reason they believe him
He wears a big diamond ring"

I am stumped on this part of Hunter's lyrics?
I will give it my best shot.

Sometimes blacks achieved a good measure of celebrity:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjCFYpWDmfM -with Shirley Temple
In fact Billy was extremely well known from this and other movie appearances. He was a celebrity!
These lyrics might be related to Billy Robinson himself.
His popularity in the Black community especially in Harlem.
although they seem kinda harsh for that.
(Billie did a lot of philanthropy so I would think Hunter might focus on that instead.)
Perhaps this is a common white misconception of Billie at the time or even a swipe at the Uncle Tom label that some blacks put on Billie. (maybe irony here)

-"Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away"

Billy was extremely talented.
One of the things Billy could do was run backwards at an extremely high rate of speed.(faster than some athletes could run forward)
I believe that me be part of the reference here in the song's chorus.

Also on a much heavier note: racists would only be pleased by full separation of blacks and whites.
(Genocidal implications)


-Majordomo Billy Bojangles

=NOTE: This represents Billy and his role as a leader in his community.

Full Definition of MAJORDOMO

1: a head steward of a large household (as a palace)
2: butler, steward
3: a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes charge for another; broadly : the person who runs an enterprise

Define: Majordomo
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/majordomo

-Sit down and have a drink with me

There might be some irony here.
Blacks could not sit at white lunch counters.
Blacks could not use the front door nor the whites only water fountain.

-What's this about Alabame
Keeps comin back to me?

It seems here that the 'Alabame' may be deliberately misspelled like to represent the black face era when white actors pretended to be black by coloring their faces with black polish (yes, that really did happen) One of the expressions that became known at the time was 'Mame' kinda like Mama but in a backhanded derogatory way.

-"Heard your plea in the courthouse
Jurybox began to rock and rise
Forty-nine sister states all had
Alabama in their eyes"

This could represent the civil rights era when the Federal Government was going up against segregation in the South through the judicial system.
Perhaps there is a tie-in to the street protests of the day which grew out of frustration with the slow pace of change and the brutal repression that occurred against blacks and civil rights activists.
Also could refer to the scenes of children being set upon by dogs and dispersed with fire hoses.
Those scenes were broadcast nightly on the National news.

Documentary Film from 1963
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joc3CRL6x4E

-"Why don't we just give Alabama
rope enough to hang himself?
Ain't no call to worry the jury
His kind takes care of itself"

The above might be a veiled reference to the KKK.
While the State and Local governments enforced race laws for the whites.
The Klan dispensed terror to keep blacks in fear and to crush any resistance or perceived threat to white rule.

The Klan:
http://www.history.com/topics/ku-klux-klan

-"Twenty-third Psalm Majordomo
reserve me a table for three
in the Valley of the Shadow
just you, Alabama and me"

Psalm of David. (Psalm 23)
v-1) The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
v-2) He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
v-3)He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
v-4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
v-5)You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
v-6)Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The 23 Psalm here (IMO) is a call for justice.

1) Billy -died penniless, "If your cup be empty..."
never given the proper due at that time by anyone except maybe the people of Harlem who closed the schools the day he died so everyone in the community could pay their last respects to Billy 'Bojangles' Robinson.

2) Justice for the people of Alabama and by extension all those who suffered under segregation and racism.

3) There will be a day of judgment for the Racists themselves: ( Like Lazarus the righteous poor man goes to heaven but the ungodly rich man goes to hell)

I know the main focus of the song is probably Billy Bojangles but I marvel at this part of the song that comes after "Twenty Third Psalm Major Domo"

-reserve me a table for three

Ps 23:5 "You prepare a 'table' before me
in the presence of my enemies"

Who is at the Table for Three?

1) Billy Bojangles-It is key that Billy is at the table.

2) The racist system-called to account

3) GOD-The true arbiter of mercy and justice

-in the Valley of the Shadow

Brings us back into the 23rd Psalm again.
(Symbolic of the life Billy lived and by extension blacks during those times.)
Psalm23 v.4- "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;"
America during this time period was like having to walk through the valley of the shadow of death if your skin was dark.

-just you, Alabama and me

So on the spiritual level it is the ALMIGHTY that sees Billy through the minstrel show that was forced upon him and black people in America.

"Any day now, I shall be released"

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949)

The irony here may also be the name of this Grateful Dead album is 'Go to Heaven'


a few issues with my analysis:

puzzling why use Billy if the bulk of the civil rights issues I discussed happened in the 1960's long after Billy had passed on.

Why tie Billy with Alabama?

So I guess you have to decide have if I have given you enough to make you wonder if this song is a stinging indictment of the old Jim Crow south.

I really feel it is. I don't think Hunter wanted to get into a shouting match over racial politics in the south.

If you think about it a song like Alabama Getaway is even more clever then Hunter's lyrics for Touch of Grey.
Just think about the Dead toured the deep south repeatedly in the early 80's and no real flack from the song.
I have a feeling Neil Young would have had a hard time getting a gig in Sweet Home Alabama country during that time. (Not to knock Neil 'Southern Man' and 'Alabama' were songs worth singing.)
Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd gave a good musical response (although not a political one) [Namely the federal govt. is a mess, no one blames that on white people why blame the actions of Southern racists on all of Dixie.] but the fact remains that the conditions Neil spoke about were not based on his imagination.
I don't believe Skynyrd was a racist band. In fact living in the South I can tell you that economics today is now more a factor than race in who gets along with who.
There were very real issues concerning race in the south. The irony of course is those issues never really stopped at the Mason-Dixon line. (I am from 'up north')and racism is a state of mind not a result of geography.
So when your Census form asks you to self-report your race I recommend you write in Human. Not that doing so will magically change the issue of race but we first need to see ourselves as one human community before meaningful change can occur.

+ C. Freedom +

It may take a bit of time for me to respond but I will get back to you.

Reply [edit]

Poster: moanin_low Date: Jun 29, 2015 8:19pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Alabama Getaway: Lyrics-part one-Civil rights

First verse:
Thirty two teeth in a jawbone
Alabama cryin for none
Before I have to hit him
I hope he's got the sense to run

I'm pretty sure this is just the narrator threatening to knock Alabama's teeth out, so he hopes he runs instead.

'Alabama cryin for none' means Alabama is doing or saying something that's got him on the path to having no teeth (none) instead of 32.

Reply [edit]

Poster: c-freedom Date: Jun 30, 2015 4:06pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Alabama Getaway: Lyrics-part one-Civil rights

I like that.
Another words 'he is just asking for it'
ie-have his teeth knocked out